12 Aug 2016

Towns that were, or the language of stones

I was fortunate to be born and raised in a place of expansive landscapes and vast natural splendor but of few towns, most of them scattered around and isolated from one another in the middle of intricate mountains or sharp ravines, as if they didn't want to talk to each other, as though they valued privacy and confinement above anything else. Things are definitely changing and improving nowadays, with roads being built were only paths used to exist and tunnels being dug where no walkways could be found, with internet reaching astonishing depths and technology permeating the most unreachable places. However, for all the good that progress has brought, not everyone enjoyed its blessing, and there are those that, on the contrary, never had the chance to bloom under this new world, for they were long gone before development arrived at these shores. Of those (the departed, the vanished, the ghosts) I wanna talk here today, a few words and images that won't even begin to outline the shape of places that once were but eventually died, disappeared, faded away.

Morillo de Sampietro, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Silves Alto, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Morcat, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Despite living ten thousand kilometers away, the place where I lived until I came off age will always remain my home, for it was there where I learnt the most important lessons and where I probably suffered the most disheartening blows: the mountains of the central Pyrenean foothills, in Northern Spain, a land of rough beauty and exorbitant depopulation. Spain, still a very rural society until the halfway point of the twentieth century, started rapidly drifting towards the cities, and thousands of farmers and peasants around the country that had struggled to survive for generations in the hardness of the mountains decided to try their luck, looking for a new life in the booming metropolises, leaving everything behind them: their lands, their traditions, their memories, their loyal tools, their centenary homes.

Espierlo I, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Espierlo II, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Casa Juste (Morcat), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Pardina de Ballabriga, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Aperos, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
One of the areas of the whole country most strongly struck by these abandonment was precisely my region, that gradually lost hundreds of neighbors, slowly trimming down the already small hamlets until only a few inhabitants remained, silent and powerless against the tides of time. Entire villages populated by single families, communities reduced to single digits and one same blood that, painfully and unstoppably, would age, and wrinkle, and die with none else around to care for or remember them. Not even the priests stayed, for such impoverished parishes dwindled beyond repair, and only the plain churches and hermitages remained in place  against all odds once everyone else was gone, defying solitude and harsh weather, letting time eat away their former pride.

Iglesia de San Martín I (Espierlo), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Iglesia de San Martín II (Espierlo), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Iglesia de San Andrés (Torrolloala del Obico), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ermita de San Bartolomé I (Silves Alto), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ermita de San Bartolomé II (Silves Alto), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Iglesia de Santa María I (Morcat), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Iglesia de Santa María II (Morcat), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Walls began to crack and tremble, wounded to the core; roofs started to hesitate and surrender, suffering from loneliness; windows commenced to scream out loud only to fell into silence shortly after, while wooden beams rotted, chimneys collapsed, floors sunk, and all traces of past happiness were blown away by dust, undergrowth, decay, ruins.

Interior de la iglesia de San Andrés (Torrolloala del Obico), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Interior de la iglesia de Santa María (Morcat), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Interior de la ermita de San Bartolomé (Silves Alto), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Interior de la iglesia de Santa Eulalia (Silves Bajo), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Morcat desde la ventana de la torre, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Torre de la iglesia de Santa María (Morcat), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ventana de la iglesia de Santa María (Morcat), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Cénit (Morcat), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The sheer, steep hills, that had taken entire generations to tame in tiered terraces, were gradually engulfed  by vegetation; the vegetables stopped growing and the fruit trees withered; cattle was relocated to lower (concrete and sheet) grounds while wild, autochthonous fauna reclaimed their lost dwellings. Decades of effort and hard work merged back with nature and only the small shepherd's huts that lied spread out throughout the hills managed to survive somehow the erosion of oblivion and unemployment.

Borda en San Velián, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Borda en Pardina de Ballabriga, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Borda en Morcat, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Casas de Montalbán, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Borda en Espierlo, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Remnants that, despite their forgotten power, still speak today in low voices of yesteryears and tenacity, stones that dare to stay piled up, one on top of another, against the laws of time and gravity, while shapes loose their definition and become blurred, drifting inexorably towards nature. In this quiet chaos of destruction, however, some new inhabitants can be found, sometimes, populating the grounds that used to belong to their ancestor's masters, roaming freely through the rubble, bringing the circle to a likely end.

Caballos en Silves Bajo I, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Caballos en Silves Bajo II, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Caballos en Silves Bajo III, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm 
Caballos en Silves Bajo IV, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
It's a sad story, a tale of upbringing and departure, of loose ends, dreams and regrets, but not all hope is lost: here and there, across the precipitous cliffs and mountains, some humble signs of survival and even recovery can be spotted: a house that has managed to stay standing despite emptiness, a building that received occasional visits throughout the years and stayed healthy, a ghost village that has regained a new living neighbor, willing to revert the flow of extinction. These are, in my book, sincere reasons to be hopeful. Surely the smoke is still lukewarm upon venturing itself out of the big chimneys, but perhaps the smallest hunch of fire will in turn lead to a new, despite timid, awakening.

Mesón de Fuebla, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Casa Sanvicente (Silves Alto), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Casa en Morillo de Sampietro, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Borda en Morillo de Sampietro, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Banderas de fiesta, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm

2 Jul 2016

APF Bangkok 4.0 Workshop

APF Bangkok 4.0 workshop
1 A couple of years ago, as I was trying to get a bit more serious in my photographic development,
I joined my first workshop, held by the APF collective in Bangkok (see the chronicles of that
experience here). Fast forward 2 years and another workshop by APF was going to take place in
Bangkok again and, for several reasons (one of them being that I had been quite dormant in
photographic terms for the past year and a boost to my motivation and inspiration was needed), I
thought this would be a great opportunity for me to join them once more, since my previous
experience had been such an eye-opener. Same mentors, different theme, new colleagues to
meet: nothing could go wrong and, spoiling the final revelation, nothing did, tough in unexpected
ways, as I will explain below
A couple of years ago, as I was trying to get a bit more serious in my photographic development, I joined my first workshop, held by the APF collective in Bangkok (see the chronicles of that experience here). Fast forward 2 years and another workshop by APF was going to take place in Bangkok again and, for several reasons (one of them being that I had been quite dormant in photographic terms for the past year and a boost to my motivation and inspiration was needed), I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to join them once more, since my previous experience had been such an eye-opener. Same mentors, different theme, new colleagues to meet: nothing could go wrong and, spoiling the final revelation, nothing did, tough in unexpected ways, as I will explain below.

Red world, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Double mirror, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Triple mirror, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Last year was a transition for me in the photographic side of things, coming from 2 very active and rewarding years somehow I felt I had reached a plateau and there was nothing ahead of me to keep me motivated like before. Had my skills peaked? Had my inspiration faded? Had my enjoyment of photography abandoned me? Or was it gear disinterest? Probably a bit of all those reasons came together and, for the most part of a full year, my camera remained untouched, my blog receiving less attention, my eyes losing their interest in their surroundings. And then this workshop was announced; I must admit I had to fight with my own laziness, but something inside me said I had to take this chance and end this drought once and for all and, luckily, I did just that.

Ice and clouds I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm 
Ice and clouds II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ice and clouds III, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ice and clouds IV, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ice and hands, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The workshop was labeled under the topic 'visual storytelling', or photographic narrative, something that has always interested me as a link between words and images, two different languages that bond together quite well. I don't mean that images need captions or explanations to be understandable (quite the opposite), or that images complement words adding layers that would be otherwise impossible to explain: both languages are completely independent, but a marriage of both where the two of them stay at the same level is also possible, and this conjunction is what I have been trying to do in this blog since the beginning: words that visualize, images that speak, both autonomous yet coexisting together to show different sides of the same reality. The theme of the workshop, therefore, couldn't have been more appealing to me.

Ice and clouds V, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ice and clouds VI, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ice and clouds VII, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ice and clouds VIII, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
I was unable to deliver what was requested from me in the different exercises the workshop was structured around, however: I failed in my assignments and I lacked focus and clarity of ideas, yet I didn't feel discouraged or scolded for that anyway; at the contrary, these detours were necessary for me to understand what was missing, and so the three mentors pointed it out for me, always with a positive approach that really helped me see things with new eyes and with a much needed perspective. All pride disappeared from me and there were no ill feelings, regrets or self-indulgence left, only a sincere will to listen, reflect and analyze remained. Probably that was the only way this could have worked for me, because it slowly penetrated my conscience and shook off the rust that I had been accumulating without noticing to the point of paralyzing my desire to take pictures.

Greasy transparency, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Three legged, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Three waiting, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Now, after the workshop has ended and some time has passed, I can see very clearly what I was lacking before, and what the workshop brought me back: I didn't learn anything new (from a technical or theoretical point of view) nor my pictures during those three days were specially memorable (much less than the ones I took two years earlier, lacking definition and feeling), but I feel happy nevertheless, because that was not the most important thing I could have achieved that weekend, but something else: it helped me remember why I like photography in the first place, it gave me a stimulus to go back in track and recover all I had lost due to laziness and disillusion. What a different experience this was! Despite not being able to create anything of much value, I felt so excited and encouraged about photography once more, that the material results didn't matter much and I was, once again, willing to go out with my camera for the sole sake of taking pictures!

Painting and reality I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Painting and reality II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Painting and reality III, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Painting and reality IV, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
APF gave me direction and focus, isn't that a more precious gift than taking a handful of worthy images without enjoying the process? It definitely is to me, and I'm sure the joy will eventually bring back the satisfaction (along with the practice), and I'm eager to start walking the streets again to recover what I had lost. For this I must thank everyone in the workshop, without whom I would probably still be wandering in the mist.